Do Old Objects Help Infants Pay Attention to New Ones?
Zhou, Allison May
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Zhou, Allison May
Babies' first words are often names for objects that appear frequently in their lives; could these frequent objects also help babies learn the names of other, less common, objects, too? Word learning is a multifaceted developmental process that involves attention, memory, and generalization. In the present study we focus on attention. We take inspiration from the observation that statistical non-uniformity governs many visual and auditory aspects of the world; the images we see and the words we hear are largely structured so that there are a small number of highly ubiquitous items and a large number that are much less prevalent. Here, 16- to 30-month-old infants observe pictures of novel objects sampled from a uniform distribution where they see each object an equal number of times, or from a non-uniform distribution where they see one object five times more often than others. We predict that infants will pay more attention to sequences of objects sampled from a non-uniform distribution, which has higher rates of repetition and allows learners to compare newly seen objects to a more familiar one. This method begins to address the challenge of how to precisely examine consequences of patterns of input in infants' everyday lives by bringing such patterns into the lab. This method also moves beyond business-as-usual by explicitly testing a hypothesized sweetspot between repetition and novelty, which could be a generally fruitful approach used to reduce 'fuss out' rates in infant behavioral studies. Sustained attention gives infants the opportunity to encounter and learn about more objects. Our research will yield new insight into infant attention in the context of word learning.